The co-authors of Invasion of the Prostate Snatchers, blog alternate posts weekly. We invite you to post your comments.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Ralph H. Blum (1932-2016)


Many of you may have noticed that the Prostate Snatcher’s Blog has been temporarily on hold.  Ralph Blum, my coauthor of the Blog, passed away in March at the age of 84.  Ralph underwent surgery for a non-prostate-cancer-related abdominal problem and unfortunately was never able to recover.

This has been a sad time for me.  In fact, I needed the last couple months to get my emotions settled down before restarting the Blog.  Ralph called himself a “Refusenik” due to his strident stand against unnecessary treatment for prostate cancer.  Refusenik is a Russian term that describes individuals who fight the establishment.  Ralph was certainly a prostate cancer Refusenik. Ralph didn’t only talk the talk; he walked the walk.  By the time I first met him, he had already been monitoring his untreated prostate cancer for 11 years with PSA testing and an early type of prostate MRI scan technology.  At our first visit in 2001, he flew in from Maui for consultation about beginning some form of treatment since his PSA had risen up to 18. After extensive discussions that went on for more than a year, he reluctantly decided to begin Lupron hormone therapy for 12 months.  That turned out to be an effective solution, stabilizing his disease for another 12 years.  In 2013, his PSA started rising again and he decided to undergo radiation, which he tolerated without difficulty. The story of Ralph’s journey through all the many mainstream and alternative treatment options is told in the book we wrote in 2010 and continued on the Blog.

Ralph and I spent many hours together working on the book project and writing our weekly Blog. The book writing process, due to my feeble writing skills included writing lessons for me.  He taught me the writing craft from the ground up.  He was a generally patient and apt teacher though we occasionally had some volcanic conflicts.  It was no surprise, considering how many hundreds of hours we spent together and that we are both opinionated.

Ralph led an extremely interesting life but he was never particularly talkative about himself. Most of our conversations were about the business at hand, our various writing projects. Too bad, because I think he could have shared many lively stories. Just to give you an example, one day I was talking with him about my deep and abiding respect for Winston Churchill.  He passingly let drop that he ate dinner with Churchill at his home in Chartwell!  At first I was disbelieving, but it turned out that Ralph was dating his daughter, and the old man wanted to know who she was seeing so he invited Ralph over for dinner for an inspection.  Ralph didn’t have any profound recollections about the experience except that Churchill was surprisingly short in stature.  I occasionally tried to plumb Ralph for more stories about his life, but he had very little interest in talking about himself.  I did learn, however, that his mother was a silent film star named Carmel Myers. Ralph once showed me a picture of his mother who was indeed quite a beauty.  She was so attractive in fact that Charlie Chaplin, who was also in the picture, was lustfully leering at her.

Ralph was trained by Margaret Mead as a cultural anthropologist. He also worked with Timothy Leary doing early research into LSD at Harvard.  He spent time in Italy as a Fulbright Scholar.  He received grants from the National Science Foundation and the Ford Foundation, and received a BA in Russian Studies and Anthropology.  Somewhere along the way Ralph learned to speak French (he lived in Paris for a time).  Besides also speaking Russian, I don’t know if he spoke any other languages.

After Ralph graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Harvard he traveled to Soviet Russia and wrote cultural reports published in The New Yorker between 1961 and 1965.  He also studied Soviet Cinema at Leningrad University.  He wrote for Readers Digest, Cosmopolitan, Vogue and Saturday Evening Post. He published three novels: The Foreigner (1961), The Simultaneous Man (1970) and Old Glory and the Real-Time Freaks (1972).  Both The Simultaneous Man and Old Glory reflect his involvement in early drug research.  He also won the 2011 Gold Medal from Nautilus Book in Wellness, Prevention and Vitality for Investigative Reporting in Invasion of the Prostate Snatchers.

Ralph was a special and totally unique person.  He and I were a rather unlikely match considering his generally bohemian lifestyle compared to my rather straight-laced, workaholic ways.  Even so, our differences had a counterbalancing, net-positive effect.  I am very grateful that Ralph approached me with the idea to write a book back in 2007.  He came up with its uniquely memorable title.  And while the book has no doubt benefited many people, Ralph benefited me personally in a remarkable way.  Without his mentoring I would still be the literary neophyte he approached back in 2007.  Instead, under his influence, he transformed me into a passable writer. Winston Churchill said, "We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give." Ralph, thank you for everything you gave us.


Jan Manarite said...

Mark - I am so sorry to hear about Ralph. I had never met him, but his writings and his story helped so many. Thanks for sharing more about his interesting life - we all have a story. They are meant to be shared...

Paul James Caiden said...

Hi Mark, thank you for this blog; I was an acquaintance/friend of Ralph for a number of years and we had always talked about doing a Rune book together. I tried to contact him several months ago and discovered his number was no longer in service... I felt something was wrong, but could find no information on the internet. I only, just now, found out about his passing via a post on Facebook. I find it sad that no one mentioned or paid tribute to this great man who gave the world so many life changing books in his lifetime. He was truly one of the greats, and I thank you for posting this for those of us who care, so that we might find it and and pay our respects to a truly enlightened soul. Thank you sir!

Anne said...

Hello - I spoke with Ralph a few years ago. We never met. I sought him out with a rune question. I just now called his number and also found it was disconnected. A short Google search resulted in reading this article. I was trying to reach Ralph to see if he had watched the Rio Opening Ceremonies (he may have been watching, from somewhere...) At the end of the segment on climate change, the screen filled with a disc of vines encircling the image of Algiz, the rune for protection. Ralph would have loved this. Though that rune was probably recognized by very few people watching, it is nevertheless now in the collective consciousness. Protection. May it be, may it come to pass.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the brief obit. Sad to hear of Ralph's passing. A many sided man to be sure.

As a high school student in the 70s, indeed as a self-styled 'rich, happy, intelligent freak,' I devoured Old Glory and the Real-time Freaks in a single night full of smoke signals, belly laughs and insights. I will always be beholden to Ralph Blum for that. Now that I am further up the 'grandfather totem' my debt only grows deeper.

Could I trouble you with a question? In the front pages to 'Old Glory' we were teased with the offer of a forthcoming "Further Travels with the Late Dr. Toke." I can't help but be curious to know what happened to this project. Would you know anything of it or perhaps put me in touch with someone who would?

Thanks again......john contee. Baltimore

Unknown said...

Hi Mark. I hadn't read the blog for some time, and when I came to view it I was sorry to hear about Ralph. Even though I never met him, thanks to your book collaboration I feel I got to know him, and would like to thank you for that Mark.

My sincere sympathies go out to his family, and to you Mark who had worked closely with Ralph for decades.

Thanks for keeping us posted on this

john levine California